Friday, January 14, 2011

Why the Words "Blood Libel" Should Be Taken Seriously

It should always be taken seriously when people use code words like "blood libel". These are words laden with meaning for the Jewish people, as they refer to anti-semitic beliefs that date from medieval times that were used to subjugate and (possibly) justify the holocaust.

There is another strong piece of anti-semitic literature called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." This is a Russian hoax/forgery drummed up in the late 19th century that purported to be the blueprint of the Zionist takeover of the world. It is the worst kind of hatemongering cloaked in wolves' clothing. It was used to justify pogroms and the rise and development of the Third Reich. It is still extremely popular today in certain circles.

If you want a brilliant, graphic re-telling of the "Protocols" and its origins, read Will Eisner's (the creator of The Spirit, among other things) "The Plot". It was his last great work and one he'd prepared for all his life.

I wrote the following post back in September while in California reading the news from NY. I thought it would be appropriate to remind people of the power of hate speech:

This country is headed down an ominous path. Contrast two stories in the NYT yesterday which showed the chilling effect of what happens when a country decides people who practice a certain religion are a cancer that must be cut out of the body politic.

One article told the story of German child psychiatrist Hans Keilson, a Jew who fled Germany in 1936 after his first novel was banned by the Nazis. He had watched the brownshirts grow in power but never thought he'd be a target:

"I was so German," he said. "I thought they would not do this to me. I am one of them." But he soon realized that Germans no longer recognized him as part of themselves. He remembered a literature class in which he read a poem by Heinrich Heine, who was born Jewish. The class president stood up and said: "We refused to talk about this. This is not a German poem."

The same tactics and even the same language are being used against Americans who practice Islam. People have been worshipping at a tiny mosque in upstate New York for the last 30 years. It's housed unobtrusively in a plain, unadorned building. Recently a pack of teenagers tried to hit the son of one of the mosque's founding members. One of them fired a shotgun in the air. A few days before that, he'd driven by shouting anti-Muslim epithets.

The ancient (but still invoked) charge of blood libel, the belief by Christians that Jews drain the blood of Christian children for their religious rituals, was echoed by this teen's words. He heard it was a cult house where people drank blood. He added as justification, "How many real religious places do you see that do not have a sign stating that it's a religious place?"

Right now it's mainstream discourse in America to question whether a citizen practicing a certain religion is a loyal American. In fact, the atmosphere is poisonous with accusations that we have terrorists within our midst (especially the President) with a secret agenda to take over.

This is not new in our history. Senator Joseph McCarthy made his bones on accusations that the American government was infiltrated by American communists. JFK had to contend with accusations that his loyalty was to the Pope in Rome. (Ironically, Kennedy was one of the few Democrats who never denounced McCarthy. McCarthy was also a Catholic and extremely influential.)

The amount of hatred and vituperation against Muslim Americans is reminiscent of Dr. Keilson's story. The desire to cleanse America of a foreign toxin in order to purify it has echoes in the darkest times of civilized society.

Unless we have some pushback from powerful voices, this unchecked aggression will destroy people. The hordes will pour forth strippping the flesh from the bones of what's left of the rule of law. How can such ignorant hatred drive American policy without being called out?

"Have you no sense of decency? Have you left no sense of decency?"--U.S. Army's chief legal counsel Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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